LaVonne Sheffield announces resignation
By Jim Hagerty
Dr. LaVonne Sheffield’s days as superintendent of Rockford Public School District 205 will soon be over.
According to district officials, Sheffield’s term as superintendent will officially end April 30. This means she will depart at roughly the same time three new school board members take their seats Tuesday, April 26.
It has also been reported that Sheffield will receive a severance package that includes six months worth of her annual salary. Sheffield earns more than $230,000 per year.
Sheffield’s departure comes by way of a mutual agreement with the district, officials said.
Sheffield was hired in 2009. Since coming to Rockford, she’s been under fire for a litany of radical changes within the district.
Last fall, Sheffield presented the Board of Education with a fiscal 2012 budget deficit of $50 million. The board closed six schools, fired more than 400 teachers, and eliminated and reclassified some 60 administrators to close the gap.
Meantime, the Rockford Education Association called for an independent review of the budget. Consulting firm Baker Tilly found that the district could receive more than $23 million in aid next year.
Chief Financial Officer Cedric Lewis claimed he didn’t account for the subsidy because the district is likely not to receive it.
Hundreds of parents, students and others challenged the budget and subsequent cuts, pleading with the board to rethink Sheffield’s plan.
Sheffield was also named today, April 7, in a defamation lawsuit, filed by education researcher and public speaker Noel Hammatt. Hammatt alleges Sheffield publicly placed him a false light with comments made at the Tuesday, Feb. 22 school board meeting.
As of press time, a replacement for Sheffield has not been announced. The school board is expected to name an interim superintendent in the near future.
Sheffield leaves after nearly two years into a four-year contract. The board is scheduled to vote on Sheffield’s departure Tuesday, April 12.
Message from LaVonne Sheffield
Editor’s note: Following is the text of a message from Sheffield sent via e-mail at 4:24 p.m., Thursday, April 7:
Change. In 2009, after Barack Obama had ridden the change-we-can-believe-in slogan to the White House, Time magazine ranked “change” as the nation’s No. 1 buzzword. “Change,” according to Time, had become synonymous with “candidacy” and the first opportunity in 20 years to have a president not named Bush or Clinton.
When a word becomes a buzzword, the word tends to loose its meaning in all the buzz.
Change. To make something different; to alter, shift or switch; to transform.
Most of us like change if the change has little or no consequence: Changing the TV channel, our hair style or brand of toothpaste.
Big changes? Not so much.
Small changes offer variety, the spice of life. Big changes bring about anxiety and sometimes second thoughts. Are we sure we want the change we said we wanted? Maybe we want different change? Or maybe less change or slower change?
I was hired as superintendent of Rockford Public Schools to be a change agent, and I’m proud of the change I’ve achieved. We have shifted the course of things and begun to make a difference, but we have not yet transformed into a world-class education system. We have not yet made Rockford schools the schools of first choice.
While I still believe in the potential of Rockford and its schools, I also believe that change, by definition, means continuous forward motion. I cannot subscribe to hitting the pause button on change, much less going backward or “rewinding.” So, unfortunately, I must end my tenure as superintendent.
I leave proud of the significant advancements we have made in our schools over the past two years, and they are many. Chief among them is that we have refocused our schools on teaching and learning by building from the ground up a rigorous, relevant and coherent instructional framework.
The top of the list also includes changing the culture of our schools from one of punitive discipline to one of positive behavior supports. We developed a robust professional development program, implemented a state-of-the-art technology system and gave authority to principals to hire the teams they deem appropriate to improve student achievement. Through a process that engaged the entire community, we crafted a meaningful, five-year strategic plan, Visualize 2015.
Alignment Rockford is the premiere example of a host of partnerships we have formed to benefit children. The level of communication has increased exponentially through regular parent and community mailings, e-blasts, automated telephone calls and other means of keeping the public informed.
As I depart, we are beginning the process of transitioning our elementary schools to a geography-based enrollment system, which offers families greater predictability and saves money through reduced busing. Months of thorough study and difficult decision-making put us in a position to close a $50 million shortfall and balance the budget.
A more exhaustive review of the accomplishments of the last two years only would distract from the message I want to impart as I exit. Every change we made was in line with national best practice and in the best interest of all children.
The challenges before Rockford remain the same whether I am part of the equation or not. What are those challenges?
A gap still exists in student achievement, even in schools where test scores are rising among students of all races. The racial imbalance in the number of student discipline cases also lingers, even though the number of students who are being suspended or expelled has declined dramatically.
A stark financial uncertainly still confronts our schools. You can quibble over whether the looming deficit is $50 million or some other very large figure with several zeroes, but the depressed national economy and Illinois’ near insolvency are real. As a matter of fact, the state’s budget is a gathering storm that has yet to break loose with full force.
We must live with less, and that will be a struggle for whoever occupies the superintendent’s office. The bold steps we have already taken, while painful, positions Rockford Public Schools to weather the storm. Closing schools, filling classrooms to capacity and reducing the size of our workforce is courageous business, and the Board of Education deserves every bit of credit for having the foresight and fortitude to make these heartbreaking decisions.
Despite the challenges that face Rockford Public Schools, there are plenty of reasons to rejoice. Talented, skilled teachers are engaging students in classrooms in every school every day, and they are supported by hundreds of caring and dedicated nurses, counselors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other personnel. We have strong principals who know how to improve student achievement because they understand leadership and instruction. The administrators on my senior team are as good as any I’ve worked with during a career that has taken me many places.
In two years time, I have also met a long line of parents and citizens who want the best for their children and their town. I believe with all my heart that they represent the majority, though too often the majority is silent.
Our recent climate survey, however, gives voices to this silent majority. Without question, the survey demonstrates that our students are engaged by their teachers and feel safe in their classrooms, and our parents are happy with the quality of education their children are receiving. Conducted by the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, the survey further reveals that faculty are using the instructional framework we built, employing data to focus their instruction and taking advantage of professional development to enhance their skill sets.
If I have shined a light on the need for change, then I’m content to have fulfilled an important purpose in Rockford.
To those who have supported me in my efforts, don’t frown because my time here is over. Smile because it happened. One way or another, change will come.
Press release from Rockford Public School District 205
Editor’s note: Following is the text of a press release issued by Rockford Public School District 205 at 4:23 p.m., Thursday, April 7:
APRIL 7, 2011 – The Rockford Board of Education and Superintendent LaVonne M. Sheffield today announce that they have reached an agreement in which the superintendent would leave her position in Rockford Public Schools. The agreement is pending approval by the Board at its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 12, 2011.
Under the agreement, Dr. Sheffield would carry out her duties as superintendent through April 30, 2011. The mutual decision was reached after extensive discussions over Dr. Sheffield’s desire to pursue other opportunities.
“The Board would like to thank Dr. Sheffield for her dedication and excellent work for the School District,” said Dave Kelley, President of the Board of Education. “Under Dr. Sheffield’s leadership, the District implemented many changes that will benefit the students in the District for years to come. The Board wishes Dr. Sheffield the best in her future endeavors.”
“I would like to thank the community for the opportunity to lead the District during my tenure here,” Dr. Sheffield said. “The School District faces many issues. While many have been addressed, I hope the foundation that has been built over the last two years will help the District move forward toward the goal of providing a first-class education to all of its students. I also want to publicly thank the District staff for its excellent work and dedication over the years. I’ve enjoyed my time in Rockford and the many friends I have made.”
The Board will be meeting in the near future to discuss options for Dr. Sheffield’s replacement.
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